International Fight Week is upon us and with that comes some of the best fights of the year coming to us from the fight capital of the world-Las Vegas, Nevada. Of course, the main card of UFC 226 has two of the best title fights we’ve seen in years, with UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier moving up to challenge UFC heavyweight Champion Stipe Miocic and
undefeated jiu jitsu ace Brian Ortega facing UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway in one of the best fights that can be made in any division. But before the PPV even kicks off, this show boasts a STACKED undercard with some fights almost guaranteed to be crowd pleasers, with many having significant impact on their respective divisions.
UFC Fight Pass (7 pm Eastern/6 pm Central)
1) Jamie Moyle (4-2, 1-1 UFC) vs Emily Whitmire (2-2, 0-1 UFC) (115 lbs)
Two young women firmly on the UFC bubble kick off the Fight Pass portion of the card, and strangely enough, make up the entire female representation of this card. You start off with Moyle, the former amateur standout who looked great in Invicta FC before coming to the big show. She looked great against Kailan Curran in his first UFC bout in December 2016, but she was outeverythinged in Brazil against the then-undefeated Viviane Perelta. She had to pull out a bout at UFC 220 against Maryna Muroz, but she managed to land another spot on a big card.
Meanwhile Emily Whitmire battled a rib injury all throughout TUF 26. She managed to shine in her first bout, submitting the vastly more experienced Christina Marks in the first round, but she got caught under the much more experienced Roxanne Modaferri in the quarterfinals. She drew teammate Gillian Anderson at the TUF 26 finale, but the superior grappler submitted her with an armbar in about a minute.
Both women need a win badly here in they wanna stay in the UFC, especially in a staked strawweight division. Whitmire will come in with a size advantage, coming down from 125 and she will need it. Whitmire needs to stay on her feet and strike, as she has had most of her problems in her career when she is on the ground, where Moyle will undoubtedly be looking to put her. Also, both women are now at top camps, with Whitmire at Xtreme Couture and Moyle at Team Alpha Male. So, we should get the best of these two in what I feel will be a really good scrap.
2) Dan Hooker (16-7, 5-3 UFC) vs Gilbert Burns (14-2, 6-2 UFC) (155 lbs)
Two lightweights on the verge of the top fifteen will close out the Fight Pass portion of the card with a fascinating clash that has the looks on paper of being an old-fashioned striker versus grappler matchup. New Zealand’s Hooker has looked awesome moving up to lightweight with three straight wins, all by stoppage. That being said, his opponents have been a past their best Ross Pearson and Jim Miller, whom he both kayoed and Diakiese, whom Hooker has severely overmatched once the fight went to the ground.
That surely won’t happen with Burns, a second-degree black belt who is one of the most well versed Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners in the sport. He came into the UFC taking arms left and right, but his last two wins have both come by knockout. His striking has come a long way since he first came into the UFC and has main issues have been with strong wrestlers. Hooker, who was recently, a featherweight and doesn’t have near the grappling skill, won’t be able to give Burns the trouble that Rashid Magomedov and Michel Prazeres did.
Hooker instead will be looking to keep his distance and strike, and hopefully catch Burns coming into something. It is an excellent test for Burns in his ability to close the distance, either to use his much-improved hands or to take it into his world. Hooker will see his movement, ability to withstand pressure, and countering skills tested. It’s the perfect fight for both men to test their weaknesses. An impressive win for either may make them a legit lightweight contender.
FS1 (8 pm Eastern/7 pm Central)
3) Curtis Millender (15-3, 1-0 UFC) vs Max Griffin (14-4, 2-2 UFC) (170 lbs)
Yo, so unless you’re one of those people who happens to have FS2, you are going to want to hope that this card starts on time as this battle of two young welterweights has all the makings of an excellent scrap. The 6’3 Millender was one of the most unheralded prospects outside of the UFC when the year started, but he stepped up on short notice and had a highlight reel head kick KO of former title challenger Thiago Alves. It certainly got everyone looking at “Courteous” Curtis for sure.
Meanwhile, Sacramento’s Griffin was much in the same boat, even after coming into the UFC. He went 1-2 his first thee UFC fights but fought very well and was very exciting in all three fights. Then he got the good luck of facing Mike Perry on a big Fox card in February and gave the popular Perry the most lopsided loss of his career. Griffin seems to be peaking at the right time and he’s in another good spot here.
What jumps off the page in this fight in his Millender’s height and reach advantage and Griffin has to find a way to counter that if he wants any chance of winning. Griffin may be the better wrestler and you can’t blame him if he chose to try to Millender down. But the Texan is also very strong in the clinch, so Griffin may be best off trying to use angles and get in out, using his hands to try and get Millender off-balance. It’s tough go for Griffin either way, especially if Millender is as dangerous as he appeared in his debut.
4) Lando Vannata (9-2-1, 1-2-1 UFC) vs Drakkar Klose (6-1-1, 2-1 UFC) (155 lbs)
This is a very interesting fight between two of the most unorthodox fighters in the entire lightweight division. For having a 1-2-1 record, few fighters in recent UFC history have made as much an impression on fans as ‘Groovy’ Lando. He became a favorite overnight when he almost knocked out Tony Ferguson on less than two weeks’ notice in July 2016, then followed that up with one of the best knockouts of that year-a spinning heel kick KO of John Makdessi. But Vannata has sputtered since losing to the excellent David Teymur and a draw against Bobby Green. Then again, both of those were Fight of the Nights. Yet, Vannata gives off the vibe of a guy who sacrifices wins for the sake of making exciting fights, and its hard to know how to feel about that.
Meanwhile, he’s facing a very tough, very aggressive dude in the Michigan native Klose. Klose was a great wrestler at the junior college level, but he much less flat-footed that most wrestlers you see in MMA, which makes him not only a better striker than most wrestlers, but makes his double leg even more powerful than usual. He schooled Dana White: Looking for a Fight standout Devin Powell in his debut last January, then upset the highly regarded Mark Diakese mostly on the strength of leg kicks. His unbeaten run was halted by the same Teymur who beat Vannata, in a strange fight last December, where Klose was visibly frustrated throughout the fight by Teymur’s foot movement and ability to get up to his feet after takedowns. It showed Klose has a lot of maturing to do as a fighter.
So this fight comes down to what Vanatta chooses to do. Lando is definitely capable of the same type of movement and skilled kickboxing that allowed Teymur to beat Klose. But this guy loves to stand and fight, which is EXACTLY what Klose wants! Vannata can still win that battle, but his percentage goes way down, especially if Klose can take him down. My hunch is that sooner or later, Vannata will stand in front of Klose and bang. Part of me feels bad about it, and part of me can’t wait.
5) Raphael Assuncao (26-5, 10-2 UFC) vs Rob Font (15-3, 5-2 UFC) (135 lbs)
If you were going to make a list of the most underrated fighters in the UFC and you choose to put Raphael Assuncao on top of it, you would have a damn good case. All this guy seems to do is win. Since dropping down to bantamweight in 2011, he has won ten out of eleven, including beating some dude named TJ Dillashaw. Since dropping a decision in their rematch two-year ago, Asscuncao has done nothing but face young guns trying to take his spot, and any other fighter who has beaten Aljamin Sterling, Marlon Moraes, and Matthew Lopez in succession would be looking at a title shot. Instead, they’ve lined up the next young gun-Rob Font.
Font, the former CES featherweight champion, has certainly looked very good in the UFC, especially in his upset knockout win over Thomas Almedia in UFC 220, and he has a very exciting kickboxing based style. But he has done little to prove he’s at the level Assuncao is. Yes, Font has the crowd-pleasing style that Assuncao has always lacked, but he is taking a huge step up in class here. Font will have to find a way to do what Moraes and Sterling couldn’t do, and that’s push the pace against a fighter who has become near masterful at making you fight when he wants. Is Font ready for that? Is anyone not named Cruz, Dillashaw, or Garbrandt ready for that. We should get the answer here.
One thing is for sure, if Assuncao flattens Font the way he did Matthew Lopez, get this guy a money fight. Anyone else with his resume would have gotten one title shot at least. I know he ain’t the most exciting guy in the world, but he deserves a damn opportunity.
6) Paulo Costa (11-0, 3-0 UFC) vs Uriah Hall (13-8, 6-6 UFC) (185 lbs)
At a time where they have not had a male UFC Champion in over a year, many are looking for the next male Brazilian star and Paulo Costa fka Paulo Borrachinha figures to be that guy for many Brazilian fans, and why? He looks like superhero, hits like a truck, he’s undefeated and has looked great In every one of his UFC wins, including his last performance last November, where he effectively retired former UFC welterweight champion Johnny Hendricks. As long as he can past the drug test, why not?
He gets a very interesting test in his forth UFC fight, as for the first time, he faces a very dangerous, experienced striker in Uriah “Primetime” Hall.
Ever since he came into the UFC, Hall has been the picture of inconsistency. He had some of the most chilling knockouts in the history of the UFC but has also come up very short in big fights. His two-fight series with Gegard Mousasi is the best example of this. But he shook off three straight losses to score an excellent come from behind stoppage against Krzysztof Jotko. A bad weight cut cost Hall the chance to retire Borrachinha’s mentor, Vitor Belfort, but now he gets the heir apparent.
It’s a very unpredictable fight simply because the power that both men posses and Hall’s inconsistent nature. We never know what Hall we are getting-the guy who separates men from their senses for minutes at a time, or the average, coasting fighter. At the same time, we don’t know what happens if can touch Costa with his power. Hall’s chin has always been questionable as well. We don’t know what the hell is going on here or how long it’s going to last, but it sure feels like it’s going to be fun while it lasts.